Special Town Meeting - Feb 12th, 2018

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Arlington held a special town meeting on Feb 12, 2018. Zoning Recodification was the main topic on the evening, but there were additional warrant articles, involving noise bylaws, parking benefits districts, and funding a six-classroom addition at the Hardy School.

As is tradition, article 1 is a motion to receive reports. Reports are received and Article 1 is laid upon the table.

Article 2 is Zoning recodification. ARB Chair Andrew Bunnell gives a presentation on behalf of the ARB. From there, it's on to amendments. The moderator has decided to debate all the amendments, and then vote on all of the amendments.

Amendment 1 comes from Josh Lobel, and proposes to alter 5.3.13(B)(1), changing the text "front, side, and rear yard requirements" to "side and rear yard requirements". The original proponent is a family on Pleasant Street who were concerned about people putting accessory structures (e.g. sheds) in their front yards. The couple brought this up at two of the neighborhood meetings, and the final ARB hearing. From the ARB's point of view, 5.3.13(B)(1) was an accurate representation of of the original bylaw text, and they opposed the amendment.

During debate, Building Inspector Mike Byrne pointed out that the original text contained an exclusion for front yard setbacks, but his department wouldn't permit sheds in the front yard. His interpretation comes from the definitions. The definitions of side and rear yard state that accessory structures are permitted, but the definition of front yard doesn't. Those definitions were carried forward in the recodification.

So, omitting the word "front" turns out to be nothing more than a clarification of the current interpretation. Motion passes 127-50.

Amendment #2 was a proposal from Patricia Worden, to add a definition of "foundation". During her presentation, Mrs. Worden stated that during an earlier public meeting, she asked "why is there no definition of foundation?", and was told "we're not adding definitions". Mrs. Worden then points out that the recodification contained 21 definitions.

I provided remarks during debate on this amendment. I stated that I remembered Mrs. Worden's question, because I was the one who answered it during the public meeting. My answer was "The recodification has no definition for foundation because the currently bylaw has no definition for foundation, and we never felt the need to add one".

Amendment fails 67-113. This was the only amendment that town meeting rejected.

Amendment #3 came from Liz Pyle; she wanted to add language from MGL Ch 40A sec 16. She claimed this was necessary to provide important protections to the public. Christian Klein countered, stating that 40A (the state zoning code) applies, regardless of whether we repeat the language in our own bylaw. There's no harm in repeating it - the only concern is the state changing 40A and the town failing to update its ZBL - but repetition doesn't provide any extra protection. Motion carries 176-5.

Amendment #4 came from John Gersh. It proposed to renumber sections of 3.4.2, and to completely strike the last sub-paragraph (M) of the section. Section M was added for compliance with the Dover Amendment. The ARB opposed the amendment, but said they'd support it, if sub-paragraph M was left in place.

Liz Pyle offered an amendment to the amendment, which struck the language striking paragraph M. The Pyle amendment to the Gersh amendment passed 175-4. The amended Gersh amendment passed 177-4.

Amendment #5 came from Michael Ruderman. Ruderman's amendment restored the text of current ZBL section 5.02. The ARB supported this amendment, which passed 175-3.

Amendment #6 came from Peter Fuller and wynelle Evans gave the presentation. Fuller's amendment would restore language from section 6.03(c) of the current ZBL. We (the ZRWG) had been discussing this with Ms. Evans, and agreed that the 6.03(c) language should be restored. However, we didn't come to agreement until after the ARB had made it's final report. The ARB supported this amendment, which passed 177-4.

Amendment #7 came from Frank Ciano, and was presented by Paul Parese. It proposed to restore language from 6.20a, regarding how lot width is measured in the front yard. This topic came up during the ARB hearings. As I recall, members of the citizens group wanted to restore this language to prevent hourglass-shaped front yards, and the two wordings seemed equivalent in that scenario. Paul presented this in the context of the front yard where the front lot line was not perpendicular to the side lot lines. In that case, the 6.20a language would produce a different result than the recodification text. The ZBA supports this amendment, which passed 175-5.

Amendment #8 came from John Worden, and proposed to restore language from section 9.03 of the current bylaw (which, I believe, is also language that appears in 40A). The ARB supports the amendment, which passed 176-5.

Amendment #9 came from Patricia Worden, and proposed a language change to 8.2.3, regarding the difference in price between affordable units and market rate units. During her presentation, Mrs. Worden had a difficult time keeping to the subject of her amendment, and was met with repeated calls for "scope".

I provided a few minutes of commentary. The recodification proposed "maximum price of an affordable unit", Mrs. Worden proposed "affordable price of a comparable affordable unit", and the current bylaw says "price of an affordable unit". My position was that all three wordings lead to the same dollar amount. By statute, affordable housing is "affordable" to a family making 80% of AMI (where AMI is based on the number of family members), which is to say that such a family should spend no more than 30% of their income on housing. If a unit is meant to provide affordable housing for a family of four, then its monthly cost will be 30% of 80% AMI for a family of four, and you can derive a unit cost from the monthly cost. I supported the amendment, said I'd vote for it, but stressed that it was effectively the same as the language in the current bylaw and proposed recodification. Amendment carried, 163-17.

Finally we vote on the recodification as amended; this is a zoning change, which requires a 2/3's vote. Motion passes with 80.87% of the vote, 148-35.

My summary of this article doesn't cover all of the remarks made, mainly because I don't remember exactly who said what and when.

A few town meeting members expressed disappointment at the number of amendments - "tell the folks to go back to work, and bring us something that everyone agrees on". I'm not convinced that would ever happen. Amendment 6 was an honest to goodness correction, and deserved to be there. Amendment 7 probably falls into the same category.

Amendments 1, 5, and 8 were presented during ARB hearings. The ARB chose not to adopt them, so their proponents took their case directly to town meeting. They have every right to do that.

The rest of the amendments were new items, which is to say that I hadn't heard of them until the special town meeting.

It was probably good that the ARB chose to support most of the amendments. Even if they weren't exactly what the ARB wanted, the ARB was willing to live with them. That reduced several of the amendments to minor differences in wording.

Personally, I'm quite comfortable with where the ZBL ended up. There were a lot of back and fourth negotiations with members of the public, and I'd call that a good thing.

Now back to the articles.


Article 3 dealt with the town noise bylaws. Last year, town meeting voted to narrow the hours where construction could occur. This was done at the behest of residents, to reduce the inconvenience of residential construction. The town manager would like to have the town DPW exempt from these restrictions, so that the DPW could (say) start repair work at 7am.

One TMM asked that this amendment be referred to the residential study group, who proposed last year's noise bylaw amendment. The town manager disagreed; the residential study group's changes came out of a desire to lessen the impact of residential construction. This article involves municipal work on public ways. Article passes 150-27.

Articles 4 and 5 deal with parking benefits districts. Article 4 proposed the establishment of a process, whereby parking benefit district expenditures would be reviewed by the finance committee, capital planning committee, and town meeting. Article 5 proposed a set of expenditures in the parking benefits districts. Article 4 passed 157-7, and article 5 passed 165-3.

Article 6 is the last article of the special town meeting. It proposed that the town raise $1.6 million, for the purpose of funding a six-classroom addition at the Hardy school. It's a bonding bill, which requires a 2/3's vote. Article passed, 170-5.

Article 1 is taken from the table, and town meeting dissolves. We'll be back in April.